Zubin, Freddie, Ratan: The Parsi conquests


November 3, 2006

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When Ratan Tata made that big Diwali-eve announcement to pitch for India’s biggest overseas acquisition yet, he sent a unique cultural message with a trait so typical of his Parsi community.

He chose India’s most celebrated festival day for the headline to mark a milestone in national pride after the country embraced a march towards globalisation.

In some way, he had, by putting out $7.6 billion to buy out Anglo-Dutch steel maker Corus, earlier known as British Steel, made a friendly gesture, yet he was conquering a British icon in his own way.

At the risk of stereotyping, one could say: “That is so very typically Parsi.” To retain one’s own identity and pride while accepting those of others has been a Parsi hallmark.

After all, was it not Dadabhai Naoroji, who in his typical style, had criticised British rule in by calling it “un-British” while speaking of a drain of wealth from India? History has come a full circle, more than a century hence, after twists and turns that took India down and then up again.

That brings us to the fact that Ratan Tata may not have been the first Parsi conqueror to be global and proudly Indian at the same time.

Zubin Mehta, as conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, proudly sported his Indianness with his accent and identity. Yet, for the better part of his career he has pursued Western classical music in its purest forms and dignity, retaining his uniqueness while respecting those of others, indeed excelling in it.

But identities sometimes are concealed – possibly because of the insecurities that they may involve.

A case in point is Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of what is now the legendary rock band Queen. Mercury was born in Zanzibar but spent the better part of his school life in Panchgani in Maharashtra, where he learnt the piano as schoolboy Farrokh Bulsara, and rode the bicycle that would become his muse some day for a song called ‘Bicycle Race’.

But Mercury, strangely, hid both his Indianness and gay sexual orientation. As one of the earliest celebrity victims of AIDS, Mercury had a Parsi funeral in 1991 that is less remembered than his audaciously creative rendering of ‘We are the champions’ at the Live Aid concert for Africa’s starving children six years earlier.

Mercury landed in Britain as a possibly insecure, sensitive Indian immigrant teenager and may have had the survival instinct to hide his Indianness in a nation where racially biased schoolboys were less politically correct than they were later.

He loved Indian food, though, and through his music, had sung an anthem for a Parsi kind of Indianness. When the deal closes, staff at Ratan Tata’s Bombay House can assemble to sing in chorus on Corus: ‘We are the champions!’

Original article here


  1. Jeannie Antia

    I’m so proud to be
    a parsi
    I’m so happy to be alive.

  2. Jeannie Antia

    I’m so proud to be
    a parsi
    I’m so happy to be alive.